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SORRENTO and the AMALFI COAST
Highlights:

Pompeii:  Pompeii was settled as early as the 8th/9th c. BC. In 80 BC it came under the domination of Rome and much building and renovation work was done. Trade and commerce made it a flourishing centre with a population of up to 20,000 people. In 79 AD Vesuvius erupted without warning and buried the entire city under a blanket of ash up to 6 metres deep. Nearly 90% of the population managed to escape and the rest were buried by volcanic material. Pompeii was abandoned and over the centuries was forgotten. In 1748 excavations were started, and furnishings and household utensils have been left where they were found giving a fascinating insight into ancient everyday life. On our guided walk we see the Forum, the centre of civic life, the Basilica (business centre and law courts), the Terme Stabiane with its preserved swimming pools including the change rooms, the 5,000 seat Teatro Grande and the 20,000 seat Amfitheatre plus Temples to Appollo, Venus and other gods as well as some of the well preserved houses such as the Casa dei Vetii, home of wealthy wine merchants. This house retains its wall paintings. Some of the towns walls still bear graffiti from 79 AD, some salacious and some political.

Ravello: Ravello was founded probably in the 4th century by Roman populations escaping from barbarians. It already enjoyed a good economic development when it was part of the Amalfi Republic, but Ravello rebelled against the Republic when the Amalfi people betrayed the Norman king Roberta il Guiscardo in 1081, electing their own Doge. Ravello refused to follow the Amalfi people towards betrayal and deserved the appellation of Rebello, from which today its name still derives. Pope Vittore III built a Bishop's Palace. It then became an economic power and as a result has left  a number of artistic treasures of churches and great villas. In 1137 it was pillaged by people from Pisa and a slow decline began. This only ended in the last century when Ravello became a preferred destination of the Grand Tour of European intellectuals and artists. Wagner, Longfellow and many others stayed. Today it is a centre known for classical music concerts.

Herculaneum: Some historians attribute the founding of Herculaneum to Hercules on his return from Spain while others hold that the city was first in the hands of the Opici-Ocsi, then the Etruscans, then the Pelasgi and at last the Sannites. Having rebelled against Rome during the Social War, it was seized and conquered in 89 B.C. by Titus Didius, legate to the Roman General Lucius Cornelius Silla and became a popular Roman residential and resort town. The city was built on a volcanic plateau at the foot of Vesuvius and included an aqueduct, public fountain network, castella aquarium, temples in the Sacred Area, 'Suburban Thermal Baths',  'Central Thermal Baths' and a Gymnasium. All were preserved in deep volcanic mud which kept the buildings in excellent condition over the centuries until excavations began in 1981.

Paestum: Paestum has always been shrouded in mystery. It was probably founded around 650 BC by a large group of Dorians who had been expelled from the city of Sybaris, a luxurious resort across the mainland on the Ionian Sea. The Dorians named their new colony Poseidonia, after the most important of their gods. It flourished and quickly became the greatest city on the gulf of Salerno. Then in 510 BC, Sybaris was destroyed. Poseidonia languished until 390 BC, when it fell to a tribe of local barbarians. In 273 BC, the Romans arrived. They changed the city's name, but we know as little about Roman Paestum as we do about its Greek predecessor. Entire centuries passed in obscurity, briefly interrupted by moments of glory: in the early 3rd century BC, Paestum was heralded as a loyal ally of Rome against Hannibal; in 79 BC, the eruption of Vesuvius partially destroyed it. Perhaps it was volcanic ash that helped to silt up the mouth of the river on which the city stood; this led the surrounding countryside to become swampy and mosquito-ridden. In the 9th century AD, nearby Agropolis was taken over by Saracens. These Muslim Arabs introduced such delicacies as pasta and buffalo (source of the exquisite mozzarella di bufala), but they were also such fierce fighters that they soon became as dreaded as the malarial mosquitoes. By 877 AD, the inhabitants of Paestum had abandoned the city and retreated to the safety of the nearby hills.
I
ncredibly, although Paestum's Temple of Hera (also called "of Poseidon") was among the most famous cult-worship sites in antiquity, and although it is the oldest, best preserved and most beautiful Doric temple in existence today, these majestic ruins were not discovered until 1740 and even then, not accurately described until 1779.

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